Six talking points after enthralling EHF FINAL4
With a record number of fans in the stands and a near-record number of goals in one weekend in Budapest, the 2023 edition of the EHF FINAL4 Women last weekend put on a historic show, with excellent handball and one big winner. Vipers Kristiansand retained their EHF Champions League Women trophy, finishing Ole Gustav Gjekstad’s tenure on a high. Here are six talking points from Budapest.
Vipers’ perfect recipe to clinch place in history
Only Györi Audi ETO KC (five titles) and Hypo Niederösterreich (four) have won the trophy more times than Vipers Kristiansand, but the Norwegian side have now tied Danish teams Viborg HK and Slagelse DH as three-time champions. However, neither Viborg, nor Slagelse clinched three consecutive titles, as Vipers have become only the second team to secure a three-peat – after Györ’s reign in 2017-19.
Statistically, this was Vipers’ best EHF Champions League season, with 16 wins and only two losses on the way to the trophy; in the previous two, they first lost four games and then went on to lose two games and draw another one.
The fighting spirit, the fast-paced style, almost impossible to stop due to the proficiency of their dynamic back court, with another layer of experience added by an outstanding goalkeeper in Katrine Lunde, who won the trophy for a women’s record seventh time, were all key ingredients to the recipe perfected by coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad, who will leave Vipers on a high, with another title on his resume.
Goals galore in the season and at the EHF FINAL4
It was a true handball festival in Budapest, with a record for the most goals scored in an EHF FINAL4 game in the semi-final between Vipers and Györ, as the two teams combined for 72 goals (37:35) in a roller-coaster game, which saw an excellent comeback for Györ stifled by Vipers’ resilience.
In total, 238 goals were scored throughout the weekend, only three goals shy of the record set last season. However, the average number of goals of 59.5 in the four games was higher than throughout the season (56.8, with 7,277 goals in 128 matches; an uptick of 0.3 goals per game from last year).
A historic season for Henny Reistad
While another title evaded her, Henny Reistad still had a brilliant season – a historic one, in fact, scoring 142 goals in 18 games. Reistad became the top goal scorer of the European premium competition for the first time in her career, and her 142 goals make for the second-largest number in history for a player in a single season. The record is still held by Natalia Morskova, who scored 150 goals in the 1996/97 season.
Reistad still wrote her name in the history books with her 60th goal in total at EHF FINAL4 events, overtaking Nycke Groot and Anita Görbicz, who shared the previous best mark of 57. Even more impressive, Reistad played at four EHF FINAL4 events, while Groot had five appearances and Görbicz six.
Anna Vyakhireva shines in her EHF Champions League comeback
For the first time in the history of the EHF FINAL4, a right back was named the MVP: Vipers’ Anna Vyakhireva was the best player of the final weekend of the EHF Champions League Women.
Vyakhireva, who was visibly overwhelmed by the decision, was holding back tears on the court. The 28-year-old star won the EHF Champions League for the first time, adding to her individual awards which include MVP titles of the Women’s EHF EURO 2018 and the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
With 11 goals and 17 assists in Budapest, Vyakhireva was worth gold for Vipers, delivering an excellent performance throughout the whole season – 84 goals – in her first season with the Norwegian side.
The right back is also the third Vipers player to seal the MVP award, after Henny Reistad in the 2020/21 season and Markéta Jeřábková last year.
FTC’s gritty story
The EHF FINAL4 can bring some magic to table, as proven by CSM’s unexpected win seven years ago in their maiden appearance. This time around, it was FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria who defied the odds and turned from dark horses to true stars in Budapest.
First, they managed to turn the doubleheader against Metz Handball on its head in the quarter-finals, snatching a superb 33:26 win in France, having lost 32:26 at home the week before. Then, they came back from five goals down in the semi-final against Team Esbjerg on their way to clinch a 29:28 win with a last-gasp goal from Emily Bölk.
In the final, though, FTC could not provide another comeback against a clearly superior Vipers. But this season, where FTC got to their second final in the EHF Champions League Women after 2002, was absolutely superb and drew thousands of fans to the MVM Dome.
With coach Gábor Elek and other players leaving, the ending was suiting for a club so passionate, with the future looking bright for a side that had an amazing season, sealing the Hungarian cup against Györ and shining on the biggest stage.
A new attendance record at the EHF FINAL4
20,022 fans came to the MVM Dome in Hungary’s capital on Saturday to witness the semi-finals – Györi Audi ETO KC vs Vipers Kristiansand and FTC Rail-Cargo Hungaria vs Team Esbjerg – at the season-ending event of the EHF Champions League Women, with the same number being present in the arena on Sunday for the final and the bronze medal game.
It was a new attendance record for a women’s handball match, passing the previous milestone of 19,467 spectators at the final of the IHF Women’s World Championship 2013 between Serbia and Brazil in Belgrade on 22 December 2013.
A true handball party was set in the MVM Dome, with plenty on offer for everybody as women’s handball gained more exposure and more popularity thanks to another hugely successful event.
photos © Uros Hocevar, Jozo Cabraja / kolektiff